If you’d told me, back in January, that my 2018 would include a Summer of Smirnoff Ice, I would have accused you of working for the brand’s undercover marketing team. Ices were a thing of my mid-20s, before I realized that I could drink without it being some kind of cultish challenge. Fun at the time, but I’d settled into respectable booze.
Yet, as the months ground on, and the planet kept on falling apart, I got the itch. “Icing,” a game by which you are forced (or force someone else) to chug a bottle of Smirnoff Ice on the spot, seemed like the only reasonable answer to the unfolding chaos. In a perverse way, I thought, it maybe gave one a sense of control — of simple and immutable rules that anyone could understand and follow. And the choice of beverage was like an open embrace of misery. Nobody wants to drink a Smirnoff Ice, let alone pour it down their throat; still, we are all bound by a social contract to do exactly that.
I wrote a call to arms in August: “It’s Time to Bring Back ‘Icing,’” the piece declared. Yes, well done, I told myself. Very humorous and good. There was tepid agreement online. Then came the backlash. “Readers said I was out-of-touch,” I wrote in a follow-up column. “That people are still getting iced all the time. Some swore that icing had never once gone out of style in the past eight years, not if you were committed to the cause. I asked for more recent icing stories and was blown away by what I heard. Icing lived.”
My punishment, MEL’s wonderful editors decided, would be get myself iced, as hard and as soon as possible. Recruiting a few brave college students by way of a not-at-all-creepy Craigslist post, I wound up chugging 72 ounces of the hypersweet libation — the equivalent of an entire six-pack — and puked my guts out twice. Because my icers had brought so many bottles, however, they hid some extras around my apartment like land mines for me to find at another date. In essence, I’d hired strangers to booby-trap my house. And because my girlfriend, Maddie, and I had planned to move out of our apartment in the next few weeks, it was only a matter of days till they sprung.
The first was in our microwave, a cheap and rarely used model, which Maddie discovered as we were about to pack it up to give it away. Citing protocol, I said, “Well, I guess that’s yours to drink.” At this I received a look that conveyed no such thing would be happening. Hey, I tried. I knelt and took the white bullet for her, relieved at how easy the chugging came to me after the gauntlet of pain not long ago. Even so, the Ice was appallingly lukewarm, and I’m pretty sure I had to take a nap after putting it down.
A day or so later, I was gearing up for a jog — something to work off those Smirnoff calories. Imagine my groaning, then, when one running shoe turned out to have the second Ice in it. There were no witnesses, and I really needed to exercise, but honor was more important. I swallowed the drink in silence, then went out with the intent to do six miles. After 10 minutes of running, I revised that to five. I felt a carbonated soup sloshing around in my guts, and it was hard to tell whether I was about to experience some heartburn or full-on diarrhea. You know what? Three miles is fine, I decided.
The third Ice was also unearthed in the course of decluttering the apartment, its placement so effortless I had to laugh. It rested behind the throw pillow of a chair we never liked and were about to move out to the curb. There was something anthropomorphic about this Ice, the way it sat upright on the furniture, waiting to be acknowledged. Ignoring it would have been exceedingly bad karma. Once again, I took a knee and did what now came naturally once more — funneled the drink into my face.
The fourth and final Ice posed a bit of a conundrum. It had been left, possibly by accident, in most unlikely place of all: the refrigerator. I’d seen it only an hour after the near-fatal backyard chugathon and gave myself a pass, as it didn’t feel like a sanctioned or intentional move, nor did I want to risk a cardiac event. And so the wayward Ice stayed there until our last night at the apartment. I packed it in a cooler with some other loose items from the refrigerator, then moved it to the fridge at our new place, where it remained until we had a small housewarming of sorts. That would be when I had the satisfaction of icing someone else. To “pay it forward,” as it were. No, I wasn’t obeying the letter of icing by not drinking this one myself — yet this matched the spirit.
The last to arrive that night were a friend couple I’ve had since college: Heather and Kaveh. As we waited for them to show, I brought the other guests in on my scheme to ice Kaveh. I was keen to try a tactic one of the students who’d iced me had explained works well with people you haven’t seen for a while: You tape the Ice to your back, then go in for a hug so the mark inadvertently grabs it by hugging you back. Our pal Jesse had another plan: Cut out the bottom of a paper bag, put the Ice inside it, and at the perfect moment, ask the victim to hand you the bag. Either they grasp the bottle itself, or if they pull the top of the bag, they expose the Ice with a flourish, as a magician would his smiling assistant. Voila. It sounded too good not to try. We set up the bait.
Trouble was, we hadn’t counted on how hard it would be to make Kaveh go for the bag. In my opinion, Jesse set things in motion too early, and while sitting too close to the bag himself, so that when he asked Kaveh to pick it up, Kaveh — already a little suspicious — immediately took up an attitude of, “Uh, get it yourself.” This went back-and-forth for a while, aided by beer and my friends’ enthusiasm for pointless arguments. In the end, Kaveh did comply, yanking the bag away from the bottle as we’d envisioned. Everyone cheered, ready to see him drink. But he wouldn’t. “Make me,” he said, repeatedly.
There followed another half hour or so of negotiation, entreaties and verbal abuse on all sides as Kaveh continued to insist that he was immune to Icing’s unenforceable rules. He also just complained a lot. As the evening drew to a close, however, seeing how the incident was threatening to become one of those canonical friend-group grievances — and that I, the host, would be heartbroken if he didn’t comply — Kaveh did the right thing and put his Ice down, stopping only three or four times to complain some more. Perfectly acceptable, I think, given his coerced and minimal good sportsmanship.
And now? I have to assume that by reinitiating the game among my social circle, it remains active, and certainly through the New Year. There’s a strong chance of many Ices to come, and I’ve scoped out the nearby liquor stores with a supply of especially noxious flavors. Of course, I will have to live for now in a special fear of Kaveh, who probably has an “Enemies to Ice” list with me at the very top. I’m on edge, always looking over my shoulder, wary of opening any cupboard or drawer.
And I couldn’t be happier.